Scotland asks EU to 'leave a light on' in Brussels after Brexit

There were rallies in Scotland as Britain marked Brexit Day
There were rallies in Scotland as Britain marked Brexit Day Copyright APSCOTT HEPPELL
Copyright AP
By David Walsh
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Many in Scotland have an eye on independence from the UK, a move they see as opening a path to joining the European Union.


As the brooding hulk of Arthur’s Seat succumbed to the darkness, crowds gathered outside the Scottish Parliament at its base to mark a passing.

As the clock ticked down to Scotland’s exit from the European Union along with the rest of the UK, the event was being treated much like the passing of an old friend. But rather than being an entirely sombre affair, the Missing EU Already rally and candle-lit vigil was a wake of sorts.

Despite the palpable anger and sadness over Brexit, there was a buoyant atmosphere, with folk musicians belting out ballads about Robert the Bruce and an independent Scotland.

The strains of bagpipes and an accordion rose over the hubbub of chatter and mass of EU flags and Saltires, Scotland’s flag, flapping so hard in the wind they sounded like applause.

A smattering of placards and banners conveyed messages of continued friendship to the EU and invective directed towards UK prime minister, Boris Johnson.

“How dare the UK government do this to us, taking away our rights and the things we believe in without even debating it with us,” said Gordon Brown, 73, who travelled to the capital from the Black Isle in the north of Scotland. “They won’t even debate with us in the Scottish Parliament. They just ignore anything that’s said to them.


Others struck a more anguished tone. “I’m a little bit sad,” said Maggie Nokes, 67, from Edinburgh. “We go on holiday to these European countries. We love them all. We have relatives, we have friends there. We don’t want to be parted from them. We’re being torn apart now. That’s what it feels like.”

Like many at the rally, she is an independence supporter who campaigned for a Yes vote in the last referendum. Brexit has done little to dampen her fervour for an independent Scotland.

“We’re fed up of being told what we can do and what we can’t do. It's got to the point where we just want to be in charge of our destiny now,” she says. “We’re going to get it one way or another; we just don’t know how yet. It’s definitely going to come but we want to be alive to get it.”

The sentiment was shared among other attendees across generational divides.

“I’m quite sad actually but it doesn’t worry me an awful lot as I believe in Nicola Sturgeon to bring us back into the EU when we become independent,” said Dan Black, an 18-year-old student enveloped in a Scottish flag. “I think it’s almost inevitable.”

“[Brexit] is a shame but I don’t foresee it lasting long, for Scotland anyway.”

Support for independence

Black’s optimism may not be misplaced. The most recent poll by YouGov shows 51 per cent of Scots now backed independence, the first poll in five years to show majority support for secession. Most significantly, one in five Scots who had previously voted No in the 2014 independence referendum and backed EU membership had now shifted their position on the constitutional question.

In the 2016 EU referendum, Scots voted by a margin of 62 per cent to 38 per cent to Remain.

In a final act of defiance, the EU flag, which was due to be lowered at 11pm, will remain aloft outside Holyrood for the foreseeable future after MSPs narrowly voted to keep it flying.

Addressing the chamber, culture secretary Fiona Hyslop told MSPs that the move represented a move to show solidarity with the 230,000 EU citizens living in Scotland.

“At times of uncertainty and disruption, symbols matter,” she added.

It's a message not lost on German-born artist and designer, Ellen Joëlle Höfer. As a Scottish resident of over 12 years, she faces an uncertain future of either returning to Germany or applying for settled status in the UK. Art and politics have both provided a refuge from the tumult of the last three years.


'Leave a light on' for Scotland in EU

“I think I have been trying to contain my anxiety by becoming politically-active and trying to channel my frustration, my fears and expectations of what is to come, into something more constructive,” she explains. “But you can’t really call it a normal, everyday life in that nothing has changed when you have an escape plan in case you need it.

“That is the first time in my life that I have been in that situation. I would have left the UK had it not been for Scotland.”

Echoing the words of former SNP MEP Alyn Smith, who called for the EU to “leave a light on so we can find our way home,” Höfer devised a temporary art installation in the reflecting pools in front of the Scottish Parliament consisting of 28 floating candles representing each of the current EU member states. At 11pm local time, the moment the UK officially left the EU, a solitary candle was transferred to a smaller, neighbouring pool. A flame, representing Scotland, was then carried back to be beside the larger one again.

The symbolism behind the piece is clear: "It comes from translating a thought. A thought that the situation that we are in now – 28 EU nations – by 11 o’clock, the 28 nations will become 27, and the UK removes itself while Scotland is waiting and is still fighting for its place in an equal union rather than an unequal union.”

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